On a warm May evening, Touqeer Pervez packed two pairs of trousers, three shirts, a toothbrush and toothpaste into a small black backpack. The lanky 28-year-old with a neatly trimmed beard was getting ready to leave Bandli, his village in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, on a three-country trip that would see him travelling across land, air and sea in the hope of reaching Italy.
His family’s unfinished house, partly roofless and with walls needing plaster, was bursting with chatter and laughter. Family members and friends sat under the open sky in the veranda, as a pedestal fan desperately tried, but failed, to beat the humidity in the air.
As they cracked jokes, Haseeb, the youngest of Touqeer’s siblings, reminded his brother that in Italy, he would struggle to indulge his favourite hobby, playing cricket.
Yet amid the banter, Touqeer’s nervous mother Tazeen was still trying to convince her son against leaving. Her eldest son Tanweer had already left for the United Arab Emirates to find work in January, and Tazeen was not ready to let go of her second, and most beloved, son.
Touqeer, however, was calm and adamant.
“If I die, I will die, but if I succeed and reach Italy, at least I could help our family. Let me go please,” he pleaded with his mother.
The next morning, on May 5, Touqeer and a few other village residents left on a 150km (93-mile) bus ride to Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, where they caught a flight to the southern city of Karachi. The next leg took them to Dubai, from where they jumped on a connecting flight to Cairo, and eventually made their way to Libya on May 7.
Italy, just across the Mediterranean Sea, seemed to be almost within touching distance.